First Same Sex Marriage License Issued in Denton County

Texas Attorney General says state employees can refuse to issue licenses on religious grounds, but may face fines

A Denton County clerk issued the county's first same-sex marriage license Monday saying her oath to uphold the law trumps her objection to the practice on religious grounds.

"Same-sex marriage is in contradiction to my faith and belief that marriage is between one man and one woman," said Denton County Clerk Juli Luke. "However, first and foremost, I took an oath on my family bible to uphold the law as an elected public official. My personal belief cannot prevent me from issuing the licenses as required."

Luke granted the county's first same-sex license Monday morning to Whitney Henner and Sara Bollinger, a lesbian couple who have been together for six years.

"I just feel there are so many people before us who have struggled longer and more than us. We are just very excited, and grateful to them, to reap their rewards, because I know so many people never thought they’d see this in their lifetime," said Henner. "We are like anyone else and we just want everyone to be happy."

The couple will still have to wait 72 hours to hold a ceremony, but wanted to get married in Denton because that's where their family is.

"We have our roots here. And for us it didn’t feel right to go to another state and cross the border and then not have it be recognized," Hennen said. "We wanted to be married right where we live, around our families and our friends."

Friday, Tod King and Casey Cavalier reported they were denied a same-sex marriage license in Denton County, along with Sara Nickell and Laura Hernandez.

Luke gave two different explanations Friday for why they didn't issue licenses that day, first saying they were awaiting guidance from the district attorney and later saying they were waiting for a vendor to make software changes on the new licenses.

NBC 5 has learned that Collin County has begun issuing same-sex marriage licenses Monday as well. The clerk there told NBCDFW she was waiting on a new form from the state.

Williamson County, north of Austin, also issued their first license Monday morning after getting advice from County Attorney Dee Hobbs. According to KXAN.com, the county said Friday they also needed a software update from a vendor to chance license forms.

On Sunday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that said clerks could refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses if doing so was against their religious values. Paxton warned, however, that doing so may open the clerk up to litigation or fines for not following the law:

"County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case. Justices of the peace and judges similarly retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections, when other authorized individuals have no objection, because it is not the least restrictive means of the government ensuring the ceremonies occur. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.”

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick agreed with Paxton, saying "No public employees, judge or justice of the peace should be forced to participate in activity contrary to the covenants of their sincerely held beliefs."

The Hood County clerks told NBCDFW she won't issue any same-sex marriage licenses on religious grounds.

On Monday, Jim Obergefell the man whose title case helped legalize same-sex marriage was in North Texas to celebrate the ruling. "I have seen nothing but support since I have been here, it has been fantastic," Obergefell said.

When he heard about Paxton's opinion, Obergefell called it "terrible leadership."

"Our country is built on laws and the Supreme Court is the end voice on our laws, and county clerks, magistrates, they are employees of the people. They are government, their duty is to serve all citizens of the state," he said.

"That's their belief, it is not mine. I am not here to make somebody go against their beliefs, I just want marriage just like everybody else," said David Alop who was waiting for a marriage license in Dallas on Monday.

After long lines in Dallas Friday, there is now a waiting room for couples not deterred by the Texas Attorney General's opinion.

NBC 5's Jeff Smith and Julie Fine contributed to this report.

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